Biden order authorizes sanctions authority covering Russian activities
On April 15, the Biden administration announced several actions intended to block property with respect to specified harmful foreign activities by the Russian government, including the issuance of Executive Order (E.O.) Blocking Property With Respect To Specified Harmful Foreign Activities Of The Government Of The Russian Federation. Specifically Directive 1 to the E.O. provides that, at the determination of the acting director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and in consultation with the State Department, U.S. financial institutions are prohibited from:
- Participating “in the primary market for ruble or non-ruble denominated bonds issued after June 14, 2021 by the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, the National Wealth Fund of the Russian Federation, or the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation”; and
- “Lending ruble or non-ruble denominated funds to the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, the National Wealth Fund of the Russian Federation, or the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation.”
These actions are prohibited as of June 14, 2021, “except to the extent provided by law or unless licensed or otherwise authorized by [OFAC].” For purposes of the Directive, a “U.S. financial institution” is defined as “any U.S. entity (including its foreign branches) that is engaged in the business of accepting deposits, making, granting, transferring, holding, or brokering loans or other extensions of credit, or purchasing or selling foreign exchange, securities, commodity futures or options, or procuring purchasers and sellers thereof, as principal or agent.” This term also includes branches, offices, and agencies of foreign financial institutions located in the U.S., but does not include such institutions’ foreign branches, offices, or agencies.
In conjunction with the issuance of the new E.O., OFAC also published several new and updated FAQs and added several individuals and entities to OFAC’s list of Specially Designated Nationals. The new additions include sanctions taken against (i) several Russian technology companies that support the Russian Intelligence Services, which OFAC stated are responsible for having “executed some of the most dangerous and disruptive cyber attacks in recent history”; (ii) five individuals and three entities related to Russia’s occupation of the Crimea region of Ukraine pursuant to E.O.s 13660 and 13685; and (iii) 16 entities and 16 individuals that attempted to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election at the direction of Russian government leadership.
As a result of the sanctions, all of the property and interests in property of the designated persons that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons, as well as any entities that are owned 50 percent or more by the designated persons, are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. Additionally, OFAC regulations generally prohibit U.S. persons from participating in transactions with the designated persons unless exempt or otherwise authorized by an OFAC general or specific license. In its announcement, OFAC further warned that “foreign persons that knowingly engage in a significant transaction or transactions with the persons designated today may themselves face the risk of designation,” and emphasized that “financial institutions and other persons that engage in certain transactions or activities with the sanctioned entities and individuals may expose themselves to secondary sanctions or be subject to an enforcement action.”